Utah has played some great basketball down the stretch, winning 8 of their last 10 in the regular season and by some pretty impressive margins. The April 14th NBA free pick is shaping up to be a good one as the Rockets also went 8-2 to close out the year. Houston was able to capture the home court advantage in this matchup between 4 and 5 seeds, which is one big reason why they are -6.5 favorites to open up the series.
Utah Ready for a Postseason Rematch?
The Jazz, namely Donovan Mitchell, had a breakout postseason last year as they upset the Thunder in the first round of the 2018 playoffs. Round 2 vs. Houston was a different story however when Utah ran into Houston and fell in the series 1-4. Mitchell had an injured foot during that series however and Ricky Rubio was out altogether. The two teams split their four regular season matchups although all the games occurred prior to February 2nd.
Utah should have confidence heading into this series. Six of their 8 wins down the stretch have been by double digits and they’ve held 7 of 10 opponents to under 110 points. Mitchell is healthy, but he also doesn’t have to go against the man who gave him fits last postseason as Trevor Ariza is no longer with Houston. In fact, the Rockets have a more traditional ‘bigs’ lineup with the addition of Kenneth Faried which means last year’s DPOY Rudy Gobert should be able to play closer to the hoop where he is the Sultan of swat. The Rockets went small ball last year, drawing Gobert out of the paint.
Harden Key for Rockets per Usual
Utah knows the formula for beating Houston – shutting down James Harden – it’s just executing that’s the hard part. This is especially true for the Jazz as they’ll be without Dante Exum (knee) for the series with a knee injury. In Utah’s two wins during the regular season, Harden averaged just 22 ppg. In the Rockets two wins the Beard’s numbers were substantially different as he posted a 45.0 ppg average. All four of those games came before the all-star break and trade deadline, so both squads are very different heading into their playoff series.
Of course Houston is far from a one man team. Chris Paul was the X-factor during last year’s postseason matchup with Utah as he put up 24.6 ppg in the series. Having Rubio in the lineup will help the Jazz a bit, but Kyle Korver is out at least in Game 1 for Utah. This means if Eric Gordon can get hot for Houston from beyond-the-arc, the Jazz may struggle to counter. Of course Clint Capela is a huge key for the Rockets as he will be asked to equalize Gobert.
April 14th NBA Free Pick Betting
Utah was dominated in last year’s playoff matchup but they had just went through a rigorous 6 game matchup with the Thunder and were hobbled by injuries. The Jazz are fresh for the most part this time around and have matched up with the Rockets 13 times in the past two years so what either team wants to do is no secret. Paul and Harden have the calming veteran presence in this one, but Utah can battle to the final minutes with a combination of stars and role players.
NBA Free Pick: Utah Jazz +6.5